Baltimore City may raise bar for student-athletes

The Maryland State Board of Education, in 2011, made the recommendation that student-athletes be required to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average in order to remain eligible to participate in sports at the high school level. Most districts went along, and now Baltimore City, the final hold-out, is considering joining the other districts in the state, the Baltimore Sun reports.


Tackle during the 2007 Turkey Bowl (Phil Romans / Flickr CC)

The scientific literature is replete with studies that show an extremely high positive correlation between participation in school sports and GPA.

But studies stop short of saying physical activity or any sport directly causes a higher GPA, and most researchers simply make the claim that some aspect of high school sports keeps GPAs higher for athletes than non-athletes, such as a minimum GPA requirement. Other possible factors include peer norms for studying established by teammates, although this is tangentially tied to eligibility requirements if those requirements include a minimum GPA.

The effect may even result from a combination of factors, although even in clusters, most aspects are related to eligibility requirements in one way or another. Plus, most student-athletes eventually meet the minimum GPA requirement if it’s imposed.

Athletes also finish high school at higher rates than non-athletes.

Angela Lumpkin of the University of Kansas and Judy Favor of Baker University compared the academic performance of high school athletes and non-athletes in Kansas during the 2008-09 school year and found that “of the 17,249 non-athletes for whom data were available, 88.1% graduated with 2,323 failing to graduate. Of the 12,218 athletes, 97.6% graduated and 303 failed to graduate.” Of the 2,016 students who dropped out of Kansas high schools in 2008-09, 94 percent were non-athletes.

Pushback and the need to overcome it

Baltimore City will initially get pushback from students who are on the bubble with their GPA—below 2.0 but with no failing grades in any class, who would have been eligible under Baltimore City’s current requirements but ineligible after this change, if it takes effect. Officials will also get an earful from coaches who stand to lose key players off their teams.

However, these objections have diminished in other school systems as the GPA eligibility requirement has been raised. Some creative ideas for helping borderline athletes meet any new and higher GPA eligibility requirement, suggested in an article in The Sport Journal by Bruce Bukowski, include “weekly grade checks, having the honor society run a study hall for the athletes, and having coaches coordinate academic study halls for ineligible athletes.”

The city schools plan to phase in the change over two years, the Sun noted. Student-athletes would have to maintain a GPA of at least 1.75 in order to remain eligible to play in the 2017-2018 school year and of 2.0 by the following year. Voxitatis happily joins the paper in applauding the change. “It’s about time,” the editors of the Sun wrote.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.